Flickr photo “FAIL STAMP” by Nima Badiey
Today I want you to FAIL and fail hard.
Yes, you read that right.
I often say this to my students at the start of a semester. I look around the classroom at freshly scrubbed faces eager to learn and be successful in their chosen field and I tell them I want them to fail.
I clarify this by saying that I obviously don’t want them to fail the class, that would do no one any good. They wouldn’t graduate and I’d most likely get fired.
What I mean when I say I want them to fail is that I want them to push themselves beyond what their every day habits and learned responses are. I want them to DO something (not try, there is no try according to Master Yoda) and fail if they have to. You won’t know what you are fully capable of until you do something with acceptance of the possibility of failure. If you feel stuck in something: writing, your job, your relationships, your LIFE; I want you to do something today that you might fail at doing.
Write a short story and submit it to a literary magazine or writing contest. You’ll most likely be rejected. So what? What have you gained by the experience of writing it and submitting versus writing it and never showing it to anyone? Post it to your blog as well. What if everyone hates it? You’ve learned how to NOT write a short story. That’s valuable. You’ve failed and gained.
Work on that novel chapter you haven’t opened up in a while in a folder on your laptop. Did you finish the rest of the novel all in one sitting? Oh, no! You’ve failed at completing your novel. The good news is you’ve made a giant step toward figuring out what your story is all about. You’ve put more words on paper. You’re taking one more step toward completion. You’re also spending some time doing something that you love while everyone else who isn’t working on their novel is not. See how failure can be a good thing?
Talk to that person you’ve been afraid to approach. Ask them out for coffee or just introduce yourself. They might laugh at you, but really, so what? Why waste any more energy dreaming about a relationship that might be when the idea of the person you’ve had in your head doesn’t match up to real life? You’ve failed at going out with that person, but have been successful at finding out something you’ve just been sitting around wondering about.
At your job, grab a colleague and ask for input on something you’ve been working on. What if they say it’s a ridiculous idea? So what. What if they give you new insight that makes the idea even better? What if two heads really are better than one and you create the next big thing?
Some very famous people have encouraged failure.
Bill Gates “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
J.K. Rowling “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
Napoleon Hill “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed on an equal or greater benefit.”
Denis Waitley “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Roger Van Oech “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn’t work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.”
In fact, there are 40 pages of quotes about failure on BrainyQuote.com where I got these.
Failure can also point out something you need to change. If you keep doing something over and over and failing at it but you are loving the process, keep trying to figure out what you need to do to be successful. But if you keep failing at something and you hate every second of it, or you dread participating in it because there’s no joy, or you realize that what you are attempting just isn’t for you, then give up! Seriously. Stop doing those things that don’t bring you joy in some way.
I’m not saying give up on hard work and things that are difficult. I’m saying that if you find something absolutely oppressive about what it is you’re doing over and over and failing at, perhaps it’s time to move on. The more things you
try DO and FAIL DOING, the closer you are to finding the successful work you love.
Perhaps you know deep in your bones and soul and stomach that you are a writer but you face constant rejection. Maybe you are writing in the wrong genre. Try writing something else. Maybe you just don’t have the skills you need to be successful. Take a class. Join a writing group. Ask for feedback. Write more. Write less. Do something different. Fail. Fail. Fail.
If you aren’t having success in a job search, perhaps you aren’t looking in the right place, or enough places or talking to enough people. Almost every FULFILLING job I’ve had in the past 20 years has been because I’ve gotten to know someone who works for that organization before I’ve worked there. I’ve almost never gotten a job just by submitting a résumé. Reach out and get to know someone in the organization you’re interested in working with. Who are you afraid to contact because you might fail? You do risk rejection by reaching out to that person, but you also have the opportunity to make a new connection and gain an ally in finding work. You’ll never connect with the people you don’t reach out to.
If you are in a relationship that isn’t working, what can you do to either make it work or give it up? What haven’t you tried yet because you were afraid it might fail? Being grateful is one thing I’ve found makes all of my relationships better. Especially if it’s someone I don’t get along with very well. When I’ve decided to be grateful for what that person has to teach me about life, my outlook changes and so does my relationship. If it doesn’t, if I fail at being grateful, I stop being in a relationship with that person. Trust me, both of you will be much happier.
Finally, where in your life are you failing? Working out? Getting the house cleaned? Spending time with the kids? What you’ve accomplished in life? The amount of money you make? Where is fear of failure holding you back?
Take a look at those areas and see what failure is trying to teach you. What you resist truly persists. By not resisting failure, you allow space for success. Every amazing, joyful, successful experience I’ve had in my life has been a result of my being afraid of failure and deciding to face my fear and do it anyway.
Do one thing today that pushes you to failure. Tell us about it in the comments section. I love hearing everyone’s stories. Listen to this one from TEDx Teens Tara Suri and Niha Jain.
SUBMISSIONS WANTED: I’m also still looking for short stories and essays for the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. Please submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve gotten some great submissions so far, but I’d love to get more! Thank you to everyone who has submitted already. You’ll be hearing from me soon.
Have a great writing day.